Grand Prismatic

From a local's perspective.

Yellowstone National Park can be one of the most freeing and unique places in the world—if you know where to go. The majority of Park visitors never leave the well-maintained boardwalks or RV-packed Grand Loop Rd. While my ideal adventure is a multi-day backcountry trek, not everyone has the time or interest in venturing deep into rugged bear country. Thus, I offer a compromise.

The Grand Prismatic Hot Spring is the largest thermal hot spring in the U.S. and the third largest in the world, falling shy of New Zealand’s Frying Pan Lake and Dominica’s Boiling Lake. However, after sifting through hordes of traffic to find parking and then maneuvering past the overly populated boardwalks, the view is somewhat disappointing. Being that close to something so large fails to translate its beauty, and unless you’re the President, an aerial helicopter tour is unlikely. Luckily, there’s a way to get off the beaten path, ditch the crowds, and enjoy a better view.

Driving south, continue past the swollen Midway Geyser Basin parking lot and continue about a mile or two to the Fountain Freight Rd. trail lot. Hike the trail for roughly a mile until you spot a makeshift dirt path traversing up the butte across from the springs. Make your way above the opposing treeline and enjoy your reward: a magnificent view of Grand Prismatic in its entirety. Notice the variety of colors in the pool, resulting from the vast array of life inside. Each color coordinates to a specific microbe that thrives at the different temperatures of the pool. Very few people make the trek to this height, so enjoy a rare peacefulness in the Old Faithful area. I also recommend making the trek to Fairy Falls—a mesmerizing waterfall tumbling nearly 200 feet down. To get to the falls, take the left turn about a quarter-mile past the butte, and hike for another 1.8 miles. Allow two or three hours for the whole adventure, and don’t forget to bring your camera and some bear spray.